Carl Haas’ incredible journey came to a peaceful end on June 29, 2016, at the age of 86, at his home that he loved, surrounded by family.
A quirky character who became famous for chomping on a huge cigar that he rarely lit, Haas built a business as the North American distributor for Lola cars and Hewland gearboxes in the 1960s and branched into racing team ownership in the early ’70s.
Haas’ vast array of involvement in the motorsports industry has garnered him acclaim from USA Today, who has called him “one of the most powerful men in the history of auto racing” as well as earned him a place on the “50 Newsmakers of the Half-Century” list compiled by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) in 2004. The same organization also presented him with their prestigious “Pioneer in Racing” award for his contribution to motorsports at their annual banquet on January 12, 2008 and in August of the same year he became the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s ninth recipient of the Bob Russo Heritage Award for his contribution to motorsports. To close out that same year, he accepted Autosports Magazine’s prestigious John Bolster Award in London in December “for technical achievement on behalf of Newman Haas Racing’s IndyCar team.” Over the years Haas has been a race car driver, race team owner, racing car/parts distributor, event promoter, advisor and visionary. His experience in these diverse areas provided him a unique insight into the sport of auto racing.
Carl’s journey began when he first started racing himself in 1952 and won ten races at the Milwaukee Mile racetrack, which forty years later, he would successfully operate from 1992 – 2002. In 1955, Carl won one of the inaugural races at the Road America race circuit and many years later would serve on their board of directors, helping to grow the facility into one of the premier racetracks in the United States.
Before focusing his business skills as a team owner, Carl began as a race car driver and joined SCCA in 1952, an organization he would later serve as a board member and subsequently chairman. In 1985, Carl received SCCA’s highest honor – The Woolf Barnato Award and in 2007 Carl was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame.
While racing overseas in the late 1950’s, Carl recognized a business opportunity and became the U.S. distributor for several lines of race cars and race car replacement parts. Carl bought an Elva Sports Racer in 1959 and Frank Nichols invited Carl to drive in the Tourist Trophy Race at Goodwood in the U.K. Carl and Frank then agreed to distribute Elva’s in the U.S. through Haas Auto Imports. While at Goodwood, Carl was introduced to Mike Hewland, Hewland Engineering. Carl recognized Mike’s engineering talent and began representing Hewland in the U.S., a relationship that still exists today.
At Goodwood, Carl also met Eric Broadley, the owner and chief designer of Lola Race Cars. In 1967, Eric recognized that Lola would best be represented by Carl A. Haas Automobile Imports, Inc., and Lola became the dominant race car in the U.S. for thirty years. Carl’s innovative concepts allowed Carl’s distribution business to blossom. Fifty five years later, Carl A. Haas Automobile Imports, Inc. still sets the gold standard; distributing cars and replacement parts for the racing industry.
In 1967, Carl started his own race team and over the next forty four years Carl’s teams won sixteen championships and over 140 races. Carl’s amazing ability to select drivers and engineers was a major factor in his team’s success.
After dominating the Sports Car Club of America’s Formula 5000 and Can-Am championships, Haas joined forces with actor (and rival Can-Am team owner) Paul Newman to form Newman/Haas Racing in 1983 with driver Mario Andretti.
Carl’s experience in team ownership included owning and operating: a Can-Am Formula 5000 team in the 1970’s; a Formula 1 team in the 1980’s; a NASCAR team in the 1990’s; the Milwaukee Mile race track: the Houston Grand Prix race from 1998-2001; and creating, owning and operating one of the most successful Indy Car Teams, Newman Haas Racing, from 1983- 2011, where Mario Andretti spent the last eleven years of his illustrious racing career.
NHR immediately developed into one of the top teams in the CART IndyCar series and expanded to run two cars in 1989 when Andretti’s son Michael joined. The Andrettis combined to score 57 of the team’s 107 race wins, a total that ranks second only to Team Penske’s 183, and each won a CART championship during their time at NHR.
Newman/Haas won a total of eight Indy car championships with drivers including Nigel Mansell, Cristiano da Matta and Sebastien Bourdais. The team competed in the Verizon IndyCar Series through the end of 2011, at which time Haas withdrew from public life due to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
In 1985 and ’86, Haas was the last American Formula 1 team owner prior to Gene Haas’ (no relation) entry this year. Carl Haas also served as the chairman of the board of the SCCA and was presented with the Woolf Barnato Award in 2007, when he was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame.
In all, Haas-owned cars won a total of 147 races. His other notable drivers included Jackie Stewart, Peter Revson, Brian Redman, Alan Jones, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, and Paul Tracy.
The only thing missing from Haas’ record as an Indy car team owner is a win at the Indianapolis 500. His cars finished second in 1985 and ’91.
Aside from his ever-present cigar, Haas was also known for an elaborate ritual in which he would bless his cars on the starting grid before a race. Mario Andretti recalled one year at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course when he and Bobby Rahal qualified on the front row in similar red Lolas and Haas blessed the wrong car.
“Carl was very religious, and he was serious about his ritual to bless the cars,” Andretti said. “At Mid-Ohio, my car hadn’t arrived yet, and Carl started going through his ritual on Bobby’s car.
“Early in the race, I fell out with something in the ignition and Bobby won the race. I said, ‘Carl, you blessed his car, and I fell out on the 13th lap. Thanks a lot!’
“True story, but that’s the kind of thing you remember about Carl. He was one of a kind.”
Carl will be greatly missed by all those lives he touched.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!